Preparing to Travel with One Bag
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” -Tao Te Ching
One of the earliest decisions I made as I began planning to travel over the next year or so, was to travel with just one bag. Not one rolling carry-on and a personal item. Just one bag. Moreover, that one bag had to be smaller than an allowable carry-on, and I wanted to carry less than 10 kg (22 lbs).
Joining the ranks of OneBaggers traveling the world felt instantly empowering. The idea of leaving behind checked luggage and the wait at the carousel felt freeing. Even a modest roll-aboard couldn’t match the excitement of hitting the ground sprinting in a new city upon arrival. Room not yet ready? No sweat. I’ll explore the city for a bit. Flight later than checkout? I’m good.
Sure, most places happily offer to hold your luggage, and I probably will use it from time to time. But it’s really nice knowing I don’t have to. I don’t have to plan for the extra time. I don’t have to stop enjoying a moment because I have to go back to the hotel to grab my bag to rush to the airport. What makes this a practical approach for me, is the weight restriction I set and the fact that the pack itself is a smaller pack. I could easily put 18 kg (40 lbs) of gear in my bag and carry it. But I wouldn’t be thrilled about doing that as I wandered about a city. And I’d be more quickly pegged as a tourist if I was dragging a rolling carry-on behind me, or had a comically large pack on my back.
For someone who geeks out on gadgets and fashion, the idea of traveling the world with just a handful of wardrobe changes and minimal gear seemed like crazy talk. There was a moment in the middle of my planning when I almost threw in the towel and just said, “Hey, valiant effort, but a rolling carry-on and a backpack isn’t so bad.” But I am so glad that I stuck with it because the learning process alone was worth the effort.
Much more important than achieving some target weight for my pack, this exercise was about examining the things I felt would be essential for my travels. It was a study in mindfulness and letting go. It was about simplifying the attachments that keep me tethered. Certainly, I’ve included things that would not diminish my experience if I didn’t bring them. But the process of scrutinizing each piece of gear I packed challenged me to think about what I wanted to get out of my traveling experience, and to make sure each item in my pack was deliberate.
I easily got my pack under 10 kg (22 lbs), with one exception: my work gear. Since my travels include work that enable my digital nomad lifestyle, I had to bring along certain tools that I might have left behind on a normal leisure trip. Without this added gear, my pack is less than 8.5 kg (18.7 lbs), way under my target weight. I’m going to count that as mission accomplished.
I read a great tip from some OneBag veterans and they advised not to manage against your total pack weight, but to manage each gram of each item. And if you are relentless about each 10/50/100g, they all add up to make an impact and you start to shave off significant weight. Here is a sample from my planning spreadsheet; it’s not the complete packing list, but it gives you an idea of how I thought about things. Below, are some tips on how I achieved that minimal weight:
One of the easiest ways to save pack weight is proper gear selection. Each extra cable may not be much in itself, but they add up quickly. So I made sure I got the best performing cables instead of the cheap ones that break easily and take longer to charge/transfer data. I could bring fewer of them, because I wouldn’t be waiting to share them across devices.
My default laptop power brick is 296g (0.65 lbs). My Anker replacement is more powerful, and half that weight. Choosing Cole Haan’s Zerogrand wingtips saved me 257g (0.6 lbs). All my deliberate gear selection saved me a total of 1.7 kg (3.72 lbs).
A lot of packaging is wasted space and weight. Medications going into pill bags might have only saved 45g (0.1 lbs), but the savings in space from needlessly large pill bottles was the big winner.
Toiletries are notoriously wasteful in packaging. I saved 286g (0.63 lbs) by moving them to more space and weight efficient containers. More efficient packaging saved 362g (0.8 lbs) in my pack.
ONLY THE ESSENTIALS
If you’re sitting there obsessing over deodorant packaging and how many cables you should bring, then it really forces you to take a hard look at all the other gear you’re bringing. There was an additional 4.3 kg (9 lbs) of gear that I could have fit into my pack. Extra clothing, tech gear, random accessories, and other things I could easily buy on the road if I really needed them became glaringly frivolous and unnecessary. Could I have shouldered another 10 lbs of gear? Sure. But why? None of the things I was leaving behind was going to materially enhance my travel experience. At home they stay.
There was a limit to how obsessive I wanted to be about cutting weight. It’s not supposed to rain where I’ll be traveling first, but a lightweight rain shell and dry sack are precautions where I don’t mind sacrificing the added weight. The secondary accessory bags I use to organize my gear within my backpack add up to about 300g (0.7 lbs). My backpack has nifty compartments that could have replaced some of these organizing bags. But I save weight where I can, so I can splurge where I want. In this case, all of the extra organizing bags were worth it to me because it would save me time on my travels to be able to easily pull specific gear from within my pack without having to unzip numerous pockets to search for it.
THE POINT OF IT ALL
I set an ambitious goal of 10 kg (22 lbs) for my pack weight. It was something that kept me focused and intentional about what I was putting in my pack. At some point, I was sitting there cutting off tags, labels, and extraneous fabric/material from bags and accessories (10g in savings, by the way). Obviously, that’s a bit hardcore and more effort than a lot of people would consider worthwhile. Then again, if I was going to that level of intensity for each item, it made me think long and hard about other things I was putting in my pack. It forced me to consider how each item would either be a distraction, or an enhancement to my travels. Ultimately, I can safely say that each item I’m bringing with me serves the purpose of allowing me to be more fully present to appreciate each new adventure that will come my way.
Just me, my sturdy shoes, the pack on my back, and the road ahead.